Big Finish: Torchwood DINNER AND A SHOW Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Torchwood DINNER AND A SHOW Review

Tony’s in the cheap seats for a night at the opera.

It’s at first a little difficult to quite see the point of Dinner And A Show, by Ianto Jones actor Gareth David-Lloyd.

Yes, it’s fun to spend time away from the team with Ianto and Tosh. Yes, it’s fun particularly to have them share a Valentine’s Day not-date date in the interim between Series 1 and Series 2, when Jack has vanished and left the team to their fate. And yes, it’s extra-special fun to see how each of them reacts to not only the human consequences of their being together on that night, but the inevitable alien threat too.

Oh, wait. We’ve just worked out the point of Dinner And A Show. It’s fun, isn’t it?

OK. All aboard the Torchwood fun train.

That said, there are actually more serious story and character beats in the script by David-Lloyd. Tosh is pining after Owen. Owen, offstage, is being a heartless bastard. Quelle surprise. Ianto’s in a holding pattern in regard to Jack while the Captain’s off-world. And the audience for the opera at the Cardiff Millennium Hall is positively crawling with aliens.

The question, really, is whether they’re just alien culture vultures, dead keen on the operatic stylings of the opera star Ilmatar, or whether there’s something more sordid and complex going on.

You actually have to listen to Dinner And A Show quite carefully, because as it turns out, there’s not just the standard singular alien species to deal with here. The audience contains quite a few Grosche – many teeth, soft-light camouflage experts, hungry. There’s at least one Pansian Eargrub here too – about as grim and slimy a creature as it sounds, but with a somewhat unfortunate reaction to music. One word: Tunegasm. And there may well be at least one other important alien presence in the building, which pulls the story and the alien audience members together.

So what Dinner And A Show is not is a coast-along listen. It pays you dividends to listen closely, so you can remember who’s doing what and why from start to finish. You need to do that, because if you let it slip out of your head, the story will become a lot of running around for reasons you’re no longer sure of.

It’s also by no means as static as a night at the opera could be. From an opening act that shows us Tosh somewhat comically drunk on Welsh prosecco, through expanding loops of alien investigation and operatic shenanigans, our Torchwood twosome are led to climb fire escapes, evacuate buildings (ideally before infernos engulf them), interrupt unfortunate banquets or barbecues, and ultimately deliver a rooftop climax with a contemporary twitch of gruesome violence. Where, after all, would Torchwood be without an occasional twitch of gruesome violence?

The story starts slow, starts personal, and builds and builds, its energy winding up and up to that rooftop confrontation that saves if not the world, then a whole heap of Cardiff’s architecture and its highfalutin’ opera fans. As well as a bunch of possibly innocent aliens. As the story winds ever upward, it takes fewer breaths, getting much of its character contemplation out of the way at the start, and coming back to the questions of human relationships at the end, in the post-climactic calm.

Tosh and Ianto, both at this point unlucky-ish in love, come together as pals here as much as colleagues, able to ask each other the things that nobody ever dares ask them for fear of the answers. It’s fairly important that their friendship is foregrounded, because the structure of the story could be said to be both musical and sexual. That never-ending escalation from a quiet shared beginning, taking in loops of breathless action and reaching a climactic end point and its aftermath could well be seen as an avatar for both great opera and great sex, and the fact that the two of them, at the end, are straining every muscle to stop an all-consuming explosion of fire feels like a potent statement of what could happen, but which they’re both too sensible to let happen between them, seemingly abandoned as they are by the people they really love.

It’s…also true that we’re not sure how much of that sexual tension sub-narrative was intended by David-Lloyd in the writing, and how much is merely the product of Reviewer-In-lockdown Syndrome, so feel free to take it with a dollop of salt.


The performances here are on two different notes (Sorry, couldn’t resist). The Torchwood cast feel for the most part absolutely like you want them to feel. Like they’re in the time and headspace you’ll remember from TV, extrapolated into the uncertainty never shown on screen. The between-seasons uncertainty of keeping the organization going without Captain Charisma and the Cheekbones, wondering if, without him, they’re in any way ‘ready’ or able to hold Torchwood and its mission together.

There are perhaps some tiny glitches in transfer from the page to the recording – Drunken Tosh rather dedicatedly turns her ‘S’-sounds to ‘Sh’-sounds, so she can be safely ‘pished’ for instance. But generally, the characters will be both familiar and suffering from that uncertainty of saving the world more or less on their own.

The guest cast are of course aiming to do something entirely different. They’re here to add story, menace, mystery and personality to which our regulars can react. Rhys Ap William in particular as Ilmatar, opera singer with an intriguing career behind him, is rather gloriously camp and pettish, giving the energy another whole spin from the moment he appears.

With echoes of the Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannerman and Big Finish stories like Mask Of Tragedy, there’s an essence here of space tourism, and particularly of performances for which people are prepared to seriously travel. There’s at least an element of comment on breathless fandom too. And there’s also an element of Men In Black about the script, with Tosh and Ianto unsure whether to step in – the instinct to keep the Earth safe on the one hand fighting with the urge to let aliens come and have a great night out in Cardiff (like everyone else) on the other.

When they finally work out what’s really going on, the push towards the hopefully-not-explosive ending is pretty much non-stop, and the post-emergency chat between Tosh and Ianto is soft, friendly, like something has been affirmed between them.

You can more or less pick any two Torchwood characters and – given the writers to which Big Finish has access – create audio stories that develop their particular relationship. What Dinner And A Show proves is that in the right hands, Tosh and Ianto have plenty left to explore. That what’s between them is probably destined to only ever be friendship, but that it’s no less precious for that. And that given the opportunity, Gareth David-Lloyd can turn out emotionally satisfying adventure stories which are generous to his Torchwood teammates as well as to Ianto.

Go for Dinner And A Show tonight – it’ll find ways to surprise you by the end of the night.

Torchwood: Dinner And A Show is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until August 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date. 

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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